The flash mobs that occurred in Philadelphia this summer occasioned harsh words from Michael Nutter, the city’s mayor. Nutter went to his church, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, and delivered a message to the congregation about the response they could expect to the violence inflicted on innocent citizens. In brief, they could expect to see children who continued to commit acts of violence jailed. Throughout his remarks, he makes appeals to speak as an insider, as someone who is black and so can reveal unconstrained observations about poor black youth and their parents. Nutter contends that of particular concern in the black community is “that we have too many men making too many babies that they don’t want to take care of, and then we end up dealing with your children.” If you’ve got 30 minutes to burn, check out the speech:
Follow the embedded hyperlink here to view the speech and to read the transcript (the links are exceptional; especially the discussion of MOVE, which makes Nutter’s remarks even more ironic). The media discussions that followed Nutter’s speech reminded me of the discussions following then Senator Barack Obama’s father’s day speech in 2008. In short, these discussions raised the issue of black people speaking in public about concerns that may be expressed privately amongst black folk but not openly addressed in the presence of white folk. Though Nutter made accusations about issues of respectibility in a way that Obama does not, the issue of airing concerns that are usually only discussed in the black community was a discussion point in both the mainstream press and in the black press. Black scholars have consistently addressed the problems with referring to “the black community” as if we are a singular lot or even a singular community without differing views, ideas, tastes, interests, and commitments. Even so, the reference continues to be made but interestingly, only in one direction. I’m interested in the historical difference between generations of black people who call out black folk from those generations who also saw white folks as members of a distinct community. Not seeing white folk as a community means that talk of a black community limits a perception of similar problems occurring on the landscape in general.
For instance, when James Craig Anderson was recently run down by two white teens representing a group who set out to attack any black person, no preponderant of any theory of racial community came forward to offer white parents of these teens the assistance of the Department of Human Services as Nutter did with Black parents. Likewise in 2006 when three white college students set nine churches on fire in Alabama, no one came forward to offer white men tips on how to parent their sons. Instead, when the pastor of one of the churches spoke about the crimes, one of which involved his church, he acknowledged being told that they were “promising students from good families.” No senator or mayor went to church after the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 specifically to chastise the parents for what they allow their children to wear to school or for their failure to monitor them.
Since Obama has taken office, I like what he has to say about the importance of fathers for families because he hasn’t made the failure of fathering a black problem. The work that he has done in initiating the Strong Fathers, Strong Families initiative as a part of his responsible fatherhood and mentoring initiative is laudable. His town hall on fatherhood was much, much better than his screed against black fathers in particular. The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse is a good idea overall. Before I became aware of the President’s formal initiative, I had already seen the ADCouncil’s charming public service announcement (PSA) of a father practicing with and encouraging
his daughter in cheerleading. The PSAs for the Fatherhood Initiative offer a worthwhile model for discussions of effective fathering because they highlight the importance of being a responsible father without race baiting.